Posts Tagged "Jacob Wetterling"

25 Years

Wow… where to begin. It’s been such a whirlwind year, and I’ve been overwhelmed trying to decide how to write this blog post. It’s incredibly hard to put into words what the 25th anniversary of Jacob Wetterling’s abduction means to me. But, I definitely have some things to say, so here we go.

This Wednesday, October 22nd, will mark 25 years since Jacob Wetterling was taken at gunpoint from a rural road in St. Joseph, Minnesota. It was just after 9pm, and Jacob was returning home from a local convenience store where he had gone to rent a movie with his friend, Aaron, and his younger brother, Trevor. They were just a few blocks from home when a masked gunman stopped them, ordered them to put their bikes in the ditch and lie face-down on the ground. One by one, they were asked how old they were, then Trevor and Aaron were told, “Run toward the woods and don’t look back, or I’ll shoot.” When they got far enough away and dared to look back, Jacob and the gunman were gone. He has not been seen since.

This past Tuesday, six billboards went up in locations near Jacob’s abduction. They say “STILL MISSING” and show a picture of Jacob in 1989, along with an age-progressed picture of what he might look like today at age 36. They also include the number for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 1-800-THE-LOST. Anyone with a tip is encouraged to call the hotline. You may remain anonymous.

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Along with the billboards, the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office, together with Jerry and Patty Wetterling, the FBI, the BCA, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) gave a joint press conference. Patty and Jerry both spoke, and we were encouraged by the words of John Ryan, President and Chief Executive Officer of NCMEC, who said that in a five year time span, from 2009-2013, over 160 kids had been found who had been missing between 11-20 years.

Wow. Wouldn’t that be something.

The fact that all these agencies are coming to the table after 25 years is both encouraging and hopeful. I think it is a testament to how active this case really has been, especially in the past year.

I also think there’s an interesting phenomenon that has started to occur. I didn’t catch it at first, but it started to gel after I was reviewing some of the comments and messages I’ve received on my blog over the past few years. It seems there’s a common phrase I keep hearing over and over, and it comes from a generation who is just now beginning to realize how much Jacob’s disappearance has impacted their lives. It goes something like this… “Now that I’m a parent myself…”

You see, these are Jacob’s peers who have been talking to me. They’re in their late 30s now, hovering toward that monumental 40th birthday. They’re busy chasing kids, life, and the American dream. But, when they finally get a chance to slow down and reflect for a moment, I think they’re starting to realize something. At this point in their lives, they are now very close to the same age that Jerry and Patty Wetterling were when Jacob was taken. And for them, like all of us, that is an unbearable thought.

But something is different this go-round. This generation thinks and acts differently than any generation before them. They have something that is innate and instinctive to them. It’s called technology… and they know how to use it.

In the past few years (and the last year in particular), I have seen this investigation explode because of the power of the internet. From blogs and forums, to Facebook and Twitter, people are talking and sharing more than ever before. And more than that, they’re demanding answers.

Throughout the past year, I have seen victims reach out to other victims, encouraging each other to come forward and share their stories. For many, it’s the first time they’ve ever spoken openly about their experience. It is raw, and emotional, and hugely impactful. And while these memories are deeply painful for all of them, they have agreed to do it for the same reason… because now they are parents themselves.

We admire Patty and Jerry Wetterling for all they’ve done to make this world a better and safer place for our children. In 1990, they started a foundation in Jacob’s name to raise awareness about childhood abduction (now called the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center). They helped pass the Jacob Wetterling Act of 1994 which required states to implement a sex offender and crimes against children registry. They have reached out to other families of childhood abduction, and in 1998, helped found Team HOPE, a national support group for families of missing children. Today, Patty serves as the Director of Sexual Violence Prevention for the Minnesota Department of Health, and is also the Chair of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

For these things and more, we admire and respect the Wetterlings. But it’s more than that. We also see them as parents, just like ourselves, so we grieve for them, hurt for them, and wish so badly there was something we could do to help.

The truth is, Jacob could have been any of our children. He was an 11 year old boy, doing what 11 year old boys do. He was taken from a kind and gracious family who loves him, and who did everything they knew to keep him safe. So, how does a boy like Jacob get taken from a small town like St. Joseph, on a country road that was just blocks from his home?

Not OK.

Not then, not now, not ever.

Jacob, we will never forget you, and we will never stop searching and demanding answers. As Minnesotans, we consider you one of our own… OUR son. Our Jacob.

The Jacob Wetterling Resource Center reminds you to keep your porch light on this Wednesday, October 22, and to also do something kind that helps build hope in our children. They offer a list of 25 suggestions you might try to honor Jacob and his family.

And, as always, please keep the tips and prayers coming. Thanks for #ThinkingJacob with me.

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Jennifer’s story

In the fall of 1989, Jennifer was 22 years old and a senior at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota. She had picked up a part time job at the local Tom Thumb convenience store, and worked there from 6pm until midnight a few nights a week.

On October 22, Jennifer was working the night Jacob, Aaron, and Trevor came into the store to rent a video. She is the last person to see Jacob before he was abducted.

This is her story.

Jennifer’s parents didn’t like her working at the Tom Thumb so late at night, and her bike ride home took her along a particularly long, dark stretch of road. She figured she should be able to pick up a waitressing job somewhere in town, so ironically, Jennifer had just given her two week notice to her manager that very day.

There was another young man working with her in the store that night. The two of them worked their shift just like any other night… nothing seemed unusual or concerning.

When Jacob and the two other boys came into the store, Jennifer remembers them picking out some candy and a video. Major League had already been rented, so the boys decided on The Naked Gun instead. Jacob signed his name on the video rental receipt, Jennifer put their Blo-Pops in a bag, and off they went. Just another transaction on the cash register… no big deal.

It wasn’t until about 11:25pm when two local FBI agents came into the store that Jennifer and the other young man on staff had any idea something was wrong. The officers didn’t come right out and say that a child had been kidnapped, but Jennifer definitely got the impression that’s what had happened given the nature of the questions they were being asked.

I asked Jennifer whether she remembers seeing any police cars go by that night. She said she remembers seeing police cars go by, but does not remember hearing any sirens or any helicopters all night long… even after returning home. She remembers waking up to the sounds of helicopters flying low over their campus the next morning, but she didn’t hear any the night before.

I also asked Jennifer if she remembers seeing the “scary bald guy” in the store who witnesses say had been skulking around and scaring customers around the same time as the boys were there. She said no, she doesn’t remember that… if those accounts are true, they didn’t come from her. She also doesn’t recall anything about Kevin coming into the store and talking to a “medical cop,” but she said it could have happened if the other young man working that night had been the one at the counter at that time. She may have been in the back or in the bathroom when that exchange took place.

Jennifer’s part in all this really takes place two weeks later. It was Sunday, November 5th, and it was her last day of work at the Tom Thumb, since she had just given her notice two weeks earlier.

The store was filled with pictures of Jacob, missing posters, yellow ribbons, etc. There was also a collection jar for donations on the counter. Everyone was on high alert, and Jennifer had been very active in all the prayer vigils and other “Jacob events” taking place in St. Joseph.

Around 9pm, an older man in his 60s came into the store and was acting very strangely. He was almost bald with receding gray hair, a gruff voice, and a rude demeanor. He seemed to just be wandering aimlessly around the store, so Jennifer asked if he needed help. He said he was looking for some soup… Campbell’s soup. “I’m going to need about six cans of that,” he told her. Jennifer told him where it was, but he just seemed really “out of it,” so she came out from behind the counter and brought him over to the soup.

When they got there, he asked her if there was something called “chicken noodle” or something like that? Jennifer pointed out the chicken noodle soup, then picked out six cans for him. Next, he asked, “You have any of those, um… saltine crackers?” She thought he was really weird… like he had never seen a can of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup or a package of Saltine crackers before. Again Jennifer had to lead him to the crackers in a different aisle and point them out. He said “I’ll need about two boxes of those.” She picked the crackers off the shelf for him, just as she had the soup.

After she rang up his purchases, the man pulled out his wallet, which was THICK with cash. He noticed the donation jar and said, “So, do you think they’ll ever find that boy?” Jennifer replied something like, “Yes, I hope so,” and the guy laughed and said, “They’ll never find that boy.” As he turned to leave, he passed another customer and asked the same thing… “Do you think they’ll ever find that boy?” He laughed again and made the same remark… “They’re never going to find him.”

Everything about the guy said “red flag,” so Jennifer hurried to the window after he left and took note of the car he was driving. She didn’t get the license number, but she remembers it was a big, fancy, dark blue car… similar to a Lincoln Continental.

3_compositesAfter this exchange took place, Jennifer suddenly became an important part of the investigation. She remembers working closely with FBI agents, and also worked with a sketch artist to put together a composite of the suspect. Her sketch is the second one in the photo on the right.

The first sketch is the “scary bald guy” from the Tom Thumb who witnesses say had a piercing stare, a gruff demeanor, and very odd behavior. He was seen standing outside the store near an ice machine at about 9pm. He did not speak or make any purchases, and no vehicle was seen. Authorities say the same man was also seen at a Quik Mart in Avon earlier that day.

The third sketch is of a man who tried to abduct a 9 year old boy in New Brighton on November 8. The boy was riding his bike near his home when the man ordered him to get into his car. The boy sped away, but the man followed him to his home and did not leave until the boy’s mother walked outside.

After seeing all three sketches together in a newspaper article on November 23, 1989, Jennifer admits that the first one, not her own, was actually a better representation of the guy she saw.

In all these years, Jennifer does not remember being contacted by anyone from Stearns County to follow up on this case. She remembers working with the FBI in the months following the abduction, but at no time in the past 24 years has she ever talked to anyone from the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office. She even called in once herself to follow-up with a lead, but in that case, a meeting that had been set up between herself and investigators was later cancelled, and then never rescheduled.

In February 2004, Jennifer agreed to be interviewed by FOX 9 News out of the Twin Cities. It was during that interview that Jennifer was finally able to meet Patty Wetterling for the first time. It was a raw and emotional meeting that held even more meaning for Jennifer since she was an elementary school teacher and a mother herself by then. Like all of us, she so badly wants to provide answers for the Wetterling family.

(Click here to download a transcript of the 2004 FOX 9 news story…) …

It was yet another crazy coincidence that brought Jennifer and me together. A mutual acquaintance who knows us both encouraged Jennifer to give me a call. That phone call was incredibly hard to make, and I want to thank Jennifer for sharing her story, even though I know it is still excruciatingly painful for her to relive these memories.

On that note, I’d like to thank all the people who have been brave enough to come forward and share their stories with me over the past two years. It is still my firm belief that someone out there knows something that could help solve this case. That one person may not even know they hold the key, so by sharing these stories and keeping the dialogue going, there’s a good chance that, together, we might truly make a difference.

So… keep sharing, keep hoping, keep praying… and keep #thinkingjacob.

*** SIDEBAR ***
I just spoke to one of the producers from The Hunt tonight who is currently taking tips at the show’s hotline. CNN is re-airing several episodes of The Hunt this evening, including Jacob’s story, which will air at 12 midnight. So, if you still haven’t had a chance to catch the show, set your DVR or make yourself some strong coffee. You don’t want to miss it a third time!

I asked how many tips the show had generated so far, and I was told they have taken 111 tips so far on their hotline and they continue to get more calls every day. When I checked last week, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children had also received over 100 tips, and that was soon after the show aired. As for me, I have received over 70 tips which I continue to pass along to law enforcement. Thanks again to everyone for caring and getting involved!

Again, if you have a tip, please call 1-866-THE-HUNT, 1-800-THE-LOST, or the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department at (320) 259-3700.

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John Walsh and Jared on WCCO Radio

Once again, thanks to everyone who has been following this story, and for those who have taken the time to either leave a comment or send a private message on my blog. The overwhelming response to Jacob’s story on CNN’s “The Hunt with John Walsh” last Sunday is a true testament to the number of people who still care very deeply about this case, and for the Wetterling family.

I hope everyone had a chance to read Patty’s article that she wrote for CNN, “Five questions for my son’s abductor.” I read it as I was getting ready to leave work last Friday, and I ended up having to wear my sunglasses out of the office because I couldn’t stop the tears. (Never mind the fact it was raining… lots of weird looks.)

As I’ve gotten to know Patty over the past year, I can tell you that she is truly amazing. She’s the current Board Chair of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the Director of the Minnesota Department of Health’s Sexual Violence Prevention Program. However, I can tell you that she is also kind, compassionate, and gracious. I am lucky to know her… she is a true American hero. Yet, at the end of the day, she is a mom, just like me, who has suffered a terrible, incomprehensible loss. She has never stopped searching for her son, never stopped fighting for answers, and never lost hope that someday the answers would come.

Today, Esme Murphy of News Radio WCCO 830 interviewed John Walsh from “The Hunt,” and Jared, the 12 year old boy from Cold Spring who was abducted just nine months prior to Jacob. Tips continue to come in, and, according to Walsh, the key to cracking this case will be for local law enforcement to collaborate with outside agencies to bring fresh eyes to the case.

Again, if anyone has a tip on Jacob’s case, Jared’s case, or the 1986-1989 Paynesville incidents, please call 1-866-THE-HUNT, 1-800-THE-LOST, or the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office (320) 259-3700. Thanks for caring and getting involved!

Click below to listen to today’s WCCO podcast of Esme Murphy’s radio interviews.

WCCO_JohnHines_Podcast_9-5-2014

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Five questions

Patty Wetterling posted an article on CNN’s web site yesterday. It’s titled, “Five questions for my son’s abductor,” and it is one of the most powerful, heart-wrenching things I have ever read. I’m sharing it here in the hopes it can reach as many people as possible.

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Editor’s note: Patty Wetterling is a tireless advocate for families of missing children, including her son Jacob Wetterling, who was abducted in 1989 when he was 11. Jacob’s story will be featured on “The Hunt with John Walsh” Sunday at 9 p.m. ET.

(CNN) — October 22 will mark 25 years since my son Jacob was taken from his family as he rode his bike home with his brother and a friend on a rural Minnesota road.

Jacob was a fun, active, athletic, kind, 11-year-old boy who loved peanut butter and football. He was most known for his sense of fairness.

Not knowing what happened or who abducted Jacob has left so many unanswered questions for Jacob’s father, sisters, brother and me.

If I had the chance to talk face to face with the man who took my son away, here’s what I’d want to know:

Patty Wetterling has spent the past 25 years raising awareness about missing and exploited children.

Patty Wetterling has spent the past 25 years raising awareness about missing and exploited children

Who are you?

I believe that somebody knows. It’s time to quit protecting the bad guy, even if it is a family member. It’s time to speak up for Jacob. Please tell me who took our son.

If YOU are the abductor, it’s time to tell. You can’t feel good about this. Find some peace. Please write back.

The unwavering search for our missing kids

Is Jacob still alive?

Sometimes the phone rings and there is no one there. It’s probably a telemarketer or a wrong number, but my heart cries out, “Jacob, are you there?” I save articles of “kids” who came home after long periods of time: three months, nine months, four years, 7½ years, 10 years, 18½ years.

It CAN happen. I don’t know, so I hope and pray that you got away, Jacob. We need you back. We love you more than the flowers love the sun and the rain. My heart wants to believe you’re OK.

Please give us some answers.

This age-enhanced image shows what Jacob Wetterling might look like today in his mid-30s.

This age-enhanced image shows what Jacob Wetterling might look like today in his mid-30s.

What made you think you could steal a child?

Jacob is so deeply loved and missed by his mom and dad, brother, sisters, cousins, neighbors and friends. I have read a lot about kidnappers and child molesters and I know that you are all people, human beings that need help.

Maybe you feel bad. Maybe you told someone, but I still live with so many questions — like, how could you? And how could anyone still keep the secret? You can free yourself of carrying this. Please explain this to me.

2009: Jaycee Dugard’s story gives hope

Why didn’t you let him go?

What happened? You probably had other boys that you victimized and released. I think you meant to let him go and something went terribly wrong. I need to know what happened. Please talk to me.

What was the last thing that Jacob said to you?

Jacob had a keen sense of fairness and always stood up for people who he thought needed an ally, a friend. He probably would have befriended you too. I need to hear his voice again or to hear the last words he said if he can’t speak to me himself. Please tell me.

More on Jacob’s story

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Eleven cases and counting…

A few announcements before I begin…

First, set your DVRs for Sunday, August 31, 8pm CST for the season finale of “The Hunt with John Walsh” on CNN. We got the official word last Friday, so we’re very excited to get Jacob’s story out in front of a national audience and see what happens.

I’m curious how they’ll put the story together since there’s not one known suspect to actually “hunt” in Jacob’s case, but I’m sure it will be great. John Walsh even got his first official capture last week, so if you missed the dramatic shootout between Charles Mozdir and NYC police, check out the story on CNN:

Charles_Mozdir_CNN

Second, I misreported some information in my “Tidbits” blog post a few weeks ago, which I have since corrected. I stated that I had recently learned about three additional Paynesville incidents that I hadn’t heard about before. One of the researchers from John Walsh’s show had relayed the information on to me, but the details were off just a bit.

On Tuesday, December 9, 1986, the Paynesville Press reported the following front page story (note, this article ran five months BEFORE the May 26, 1987 article that talks about the five Paynesville attacks):

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Assault incidents reported

Two incidents on two separate occasions involving 13-year-old boys have been reported to the Paynesville Police Department.

The first incident was reported in August of this year and the second reported on Nov. 30.
On both occasions, the victims were attacked from behind and were verbally threatened. Neither of the victims were seriously harmed, according to the Paynesville Police. However, the second victim was sexually assaulted.

The Paynesville Police is cautioning parents to advise their children not to be out after dark because of the two incidents.

The Paynesville Police don’t know if the two incidents are related. There are currently no suspects in the investigation.

If anyone has any information concerning these two incidents, they are asked to contact Crime Stoppers, where a person giving information can remain anonymous, or contact the Paynesville Police.

-=-=-=-=-

Because this story ran BEFORE the article from May 26, 1987, I assume these two incidents from 1986 were already included in those five that were reported in May 1987.

Using this information, I’ve now compiled a list of ten separate Paynesville incidents, including two we haven’t found yet (August 1986, and Spring 1987). If anyone can help fill in the blanks, please comment below or visit my “Contact” page to send me a private message. In the next few weeks, the Paynesville Police Department will be working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to look at these incidents more closely, so any help you’re able to provide would be greatly appreciated!

  1. March 9, 1986 – Attempted drive-by abduction of 12 year old boy near G&T Foods
  2. June 1986 – Three kids playing hide-n-seek at middle school playground, Town & Country Days
  3. August 1986 – By the river? At the middle school playground?
  4. November 30, 1986 – Alley between the middle school and hospital
  5. February 14, 1987 – Ben Franklin, downtown, 122 West James Street
  6. Spring 1987 – By the river? At the middle school playground?
  7. May 17, 1987 – By the hockey rink at the Catholic church, two boys riding bikes
  8. Summer 1987 – By the river #2, camping incident, man spying on group of boys
  9. September, 1987 – By the river #3, man in parka with orange lining, Lyndall Avenue
  10. Late 80s or early 90s – Boy chased from middle school to his aunt/uncle’s house


View Paynesville Incidents, 1986-1989 in a larger map

Now, onto incident #11.

I received a message on my blog from a woman who had grown up in Paynesville and was 14 years old when Jacob was abducted. She is fairly certain this incident took place the summer before she started 9th grade, so that would make it the summer of 1989.

She is also the sister of the boy from incident #9 above. He was the one who was chased off his back porch by a man wearing a dark parka with orange lining.

Here’s her story.

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One night, I was late for my curfew. I had been uptown at Papa’s Pizza with my friend and heard the 10pm whistle blow, so I knew I had to hurry home.

Normally I would have taken James Street home because it was lit, but since I was late, I decided to take the alley home instead because it was quicker. It went behind the Post Office (Bank of the West), and Haines Electric. When I got to the alley by Haines Electric, I was coming behind the first house on the right. They had a row of lilac bushes that was in the shape of an L, but there was a gap at the “joint” where they kept their garbage cans.

As I was passing that spot, suddenly the garbage cans got knocked over and a man came running out after me. I was so scared that I couldn’t even scream. I remember I could hear the gravel spinning under my tires, and I made some kind of sound. I think that’s when he realized I was a girl. I was kind of a tomboy, had short hair, and was riding a boy’s bike, so I’m pretty sure he thought I was a boy. He ran after me for about 20 feet, then he stopped. I remember looking back and knew it was a man’s stature. He was taller than me and was wearing a long dark coat.

I told my parents immediately when I got home, but I’m not sure they believed me… they maybe thought I was making it up because I was late. So, it never got reported. I’m pretty sure it was a Friday night… probably toward the end of summer. I remember having a light jacket on.

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Again, thanks for following along. If you have any information regarding these or similar incidents around the Paynesville area during this time, please contact the Stearns County Sheriff’s Office at (320) 259-3700. You may also contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST.

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